After 50 Years Of Endangered Species Act Conservation, The Results ‘Weren’t Great,’ Expert Says
Endangered desert bighorn rams fight to establish size and strength dominance over the other and increase chances of mating during the rut, or mating season, on August 29, 2023 near Indio, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which turned 50 years old on Thursday, has largely failed to restore populations of endangered species, according to government data analyzed by researchers at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC).

The ESA, overseen and enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is the backbone of the federal government’s efforts to conserve endangered or threatened species. The act has two primary goals: save species from extinction, then help them recover.

But USFWS data show a massive gap between the ESA’s impact on the rate of extinction versus its ability to help species recover, according to USFWS data analyzed by PERC vice president of research Shawn Regan and PERC research fellow Katherine Wright.

Over the ESA’s lifetime, just 3% of species listed under the act as protected species have ever recovered. In a social media post marking the ESA’s 50th anniversary, Regan noted that the act has a 99% rate at keeping species from extinction. But the act has failed in its “ultimate goal,” he said.

“The act’s ultimate goal, however, is not to prevent extinction; it’s to recover species to the point that the act’s protections are no longer needed,” Regan wrote. “But of the 1,732 domestic species listed under the act, just 57 (3%) have recovered. This is not good news!”

In addition to low rate of recovery, the USFWS has missed a large majority of its projections for recovery as well.

Regan and Wright “compared the number of recovered species to the number the agency projected should be recovered by [2023]. The results weren’t great,” Regan said. “We find that most of the species projected to recover by now have not. The [USFWS] projected to recover 300 species by 2023, but only 13 of those species have recovered. (The other 44 recovered species did not have projected recovery dates.)”

The USFWS has also struggled to make meaningful progress on recovery objectives for threatened or endangered species.


“According to the [USFWS’s] own assessment of its progress implementing recovery plans, 85% of species have completed or partially completed less than a quarter of their recovery actions,” Regan noted. “At the current rate of recovery, it would take the [USFWS] another 70 years to recover the just the remaining 287 species it projected to recover by now.”

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